Backpacking the Arizona Trail: Buckskin Mountain to Kaibab Plateau North (AZT Day 2, Passages 43 & 42; Arizona/Utah Day 9)

Looking across Larkum Canyon on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain

In the land of Arizona
Through desert heat or snow
Winds a trail for folks to follow
From Utah to Old Mexico

It’s the Arizona Trail
A pathway through the great Southwest
A diverse track through wood and stone
Your spirit it will test

Oh, sure you’ll sweat and blister
You’ll feel the miles every day
You’ll shiver at the loneliness
Your feet and seat will pay

But you’ll see moonlight on the borderlands
You’ll see stars on the Mogollon
You’ll feel the warmth of winter sun
And be thrilled straight through to bone

The aches and pains will fade away
You’ll feel renewed and whole
You’ll never be the same again
With Arizona in your soul

Along the Arizona Trail
A reverence and peace you’ll know
Through deserts, canyons, and mountains
From Utah to Old Mexico

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Another early start. I make it off Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain) by mid morning and break into the northern Kaibab Plateau (Passage 42).

Backpacking the Arizona Trail SOBO through PJ scrubland
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain
Exiting the Buckskin Passage of the Arizona Trail, on to Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
AZT Passage 43, Buckskin Mountain

The land shifts from BLM land at the start and enters the Kaibab National Forest south of the Passage boundary. I’m having some issues charging given the intermittent shade cast by the continuing pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest landscape, so this will be brief. After a crossing of the Old Spanish Trail and long meadow section that ends near Government Reservoir, there’s a brisk climb to the end of the day after 14.3 miles.

After the better part of the last day or so of hiking through pinyon-juniper (PJ) Forest, today the trail starts to break out into open ricegrass and blackbush meadows.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south with the Arizona Trail leading ahead through fields of ricegrass and blackbush
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
While the rice grass in the meadows is mostly browned out from the lack of a monsoon, in some places microclimates or the lingering evidence of the wet winter can still be seen with a green tinge.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking across ricegrass & blackbush meadows toward another of Arizona’s mountain ranges, potentially the Moccasin Mountains to the NW or Buckskin Mountains behind on the trail, hiking view from the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking south on the AZT
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Looking back while hiking along the Arizona Trail through the rice grass & blackbush meadows and pinyon-juniper (PJ) forest of the northern Kaibab Plateau
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Backpacking along the AZT, looking across the rice grass meadows and PJ forested hills of the extreme northern Kaibab Plateau
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North

Some immense Kaibab Limestone outcrops are the highlight glowing gold in the evening light. I’ve broken into ponderosa forest and spotted some Gamble Oaks with tinges of fall color. It’s still pretty warm but fall is on the way.

Hiking south & climbing onto the main portion of the northern rim of the Kaibab Plateau, ponderosa pines take precedence on golden limestone. A cluster of Gamble oaks starting to break into fall foliage sits beside the trail.
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
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Backpacking through the ponderosa pines
Arizona Trail Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest
Sunset from camp, seen hiking south on the Arizona Trail
AZT Passage 42, Kaibab Plateau North
Kaibab National Forest



The shift from PJ to ponderosa forest represents the first major ecosystem change on a trail famed for its diversity, and it is indeed quite the shift from a landscape perspective. Instead of shorter trees and intermittent shade, interspersed with meadows offering more direct sunlight, the landscape now features mature ponderosa and widespread shading and much more filtered light.

I should be to Jacob Lake in time for dinner tomorrow evening (and hopefully breakfast the following morning) before heading into the central Kaibab. Looking forward to my first real meal in 1-2 weeks.



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Passage 43 (Buckskin Mountain)Passage 42 (Kaibab Plateau North)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack Dirt singletrack
Length (Mi)10.816.4
SeasonMarch-November. Lower elevations hot in summer with little shade.Spring-Fall
Potential Water SourcesSeasonal tank (mi 4.1 SOBO/784.6 NOBO)
Seasonal tank (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
Rock Creek Apron (mi 13.3 SOBO/775.4 NOBO), off trail
Government Reservoir (mi 17.8 SOBO/770.9 NOBO), off trail
Ponderosa Trick Tank (mi 20.0 SOBO/768.7 NOBO), off trail
Umbrella Tank (mi 20.3 SOBO/768.4 NOBO)
Orderville Trick Tank (mi 21 SOBO/767.7 NOBO), off trail
TrailheadsNorth: Utah border at Coyote Valley (mi 0 SOBO/788.7 NOBO)
South: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
North: Winter Road Trailhead (mi 10.6 SOBO/778.1 NOBO)
South: US-89A east of Jacob Lake
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheadsNorth: Vehicular access (dirt road)
South: Vehicular access (paved road)
WildernessNoNo
Possible resupply pointsNoneJacob Lake
DifficultyEasyEasy to moderate
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near summit of Buckskin Mountain, after initial climb out of Coyote Valley/just before final descent into Coyote Valley. Developed campsite at Utah state line in Coyote Valley.Good LNT-compatible sites through National Forest. I liked a spot right at the northern end of the ponderosa forest, at the north tip of the Kaibab itself.
ThreatsHeat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration

Lightning
Heat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration

Lightning
Permits Required? NoNo
Cell service?Limited Limited to nonexistent
Ecosystems traversedGreat Basin Conifer WoodlandGreat Basin Conifer Woodland
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides & ATA Guide to the Arizona Trail. Note that due to wildfire, Passage 43 is currently closed to access by the Bureau of Land Management.
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Great Basin Conifer WoodlandRocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Common Trees/Shrubs* Big sagebrush
* Fernbush
* Fremont barberry
* Gambel oak
* Hopbush
* Mormon tea
* Rabbitbrush
* Serviceberry
* Stansbury cliffrose
* Junipers
* Piñon pine
* Ponderosa Pine
* Southwestern white pine
* Subalpine fir 
* White fir 
* Rocky Mountain maple
* Bigtooth maple
* Grey alder
* Red birch
* Red osier dogwood
* Cliffbush
* Mallow ninebark
* New Mexican locust
* huckleberry
* bilberries
Common herbaceous plants* Cutleaf
* Phacelia
* Wild onions
* Buckwheats
* Bladderpods
* Evening primrose
* Penstemons
* Sego-lily
* Grasses such as muttongrass & squirreltail
* Groundsel
* Indian paintbrush
* Locoweed
* Phlox
* Pinque rubberweed
* Sedges, such as clustered field sedge & western sedge
* Wild cabbage (unusual, thick stemmed)
* fringed brome
* Geyer’s sedge/elk sedge
* Ross’ sedge
* Bronze sedge/dry land sedge/hillside sedge/hay sedge/Fernald’s hay sedge
* screwleaf muhly 
* bluebunch wheatgrass
* Spruce-fir fleabane
* wild strawberry/Virginia strawberry
* Small-flowered woodrush
* mountain sweet Cicely
* bittercress ragwort
* western meadow-rue
* Fendler’s meadow-rue
Common succulents* Banana & Bailey’s yucca
* Beehive cactus
* Claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Prickly pear cacti
* Whipple cholla
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.

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